A trip to a Macanese market and a Chinese New Year party challenge the chefs to adapt to new ingredients and flavors.

By Korsha Wilson
February 28, 2019
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Bye, bye Kentucky. Hello Macau! The final five chefs have departed the Bluegrass state and will be cooking for the title of Top Chef in one of the most interesting food locales on the planet, Macau, also known as the “Las Vegas of Asia.” It’ll be a tough competition to see who can soak in the most from the location while not losing themselves in the process. Kelsey and Adrienne have been in the middle of pack for a while, while Sara and Eric are riding the high of a streak of top placements in challenges. Michelle, who cooked her ass off in Last Chance Kitchen to get back into the competition, is hungrier than ever for the title.

The first morning in Macau, the cheftestants get a wake-up call in the form of Graham Elliot. Graham shares that he’s been traveling to Macau for the last two years and loves the city. He’s taking them to the famous Red Market, a three-story building and busy hub selling meat, produce and seafood. “It reminds me of the markets back home in Ghana,” Eric says as they walk around. “There is anything and everything you could dream about here and then things you didn’t even know existed,” Kelsey adds. Graham walks them through the seafood section where he gives them a tour of all of the different eels, shrimp, mussels, clams and other sea creatures available.

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Graham ends the tour by taking the chefs upstairs to the roof where they see Padma Lakshmi waiting for them. Guess what time it is? It’s time for the first Macau Quickfire!

Quickfire

The chefs will have 45 minutes and 200 Macanese pataca (equal to about $25 US) to put their shopping lesson to work and make a dish inspired by the ingredients at the market. The chefs pull knives to pick proteins and then they’re back into the market to shop.

Here’s what they were able to come up with:

Michelle Minori
Protein: Cuttlefish
Dish: Cuttlefish noodles with Chinese beans, lotus root
and fermented black beans
Michelle is going to use the cuttlefish to make “noodles” and a black bean sauce. She’s pleased with the texture although the squid curls when she cooks it meaning it doesn’t have the appearance of noodles. Padma says that she really likes the texture and Graham says that she really captured the flavors of Macau. 

Eric Adjepong
Protein: Snails
Dish: Snails in black pepper and oyster sauce with citrus oil

Eric picks the snails, it’s an interesting choice since snails can get very tough very quickly. During cooking, he asks Michelle what she thinks and she neither confirms nor denies that the snails are overcooked (is it shady or shrewd?). Padma says the texture is a cross between chewy and rubbery which is not good. Graham says he likes the flavor of the sauce a lot but the snails were overcooked.

Adrienne Wright
Protein: Razor clams
Dish: Razor clam and watermelon ceviche

Adrienne is making ceviche with gorgeous razor clams and lotus root chips which sounds amazing. Graham and Padma seem to enjoy the dish with Graham saying the flavor is awesome.

Sara Bradley
Protein: scallop
Dish: Fresh scallops with celtuce, rose apples and water chestnut

Sara picks scallops as her protein but realized that they’re not like the small, tender ones back home. These scallops are large and super firm meaning she has to switch plans and go for a raw dish. It looks great but is a little too delicate for Graham. “There’s not a ton of flavor there,” he says. 

Kelsey Barnard Clark
Protein: Gum fish
Dish: Fried gum fish with sweet and sour sauce

Kelsey’s protein is gum fish so she’s planning to do a fried fish dish with black bean paste. She buys vegetables, sauces and what she thinks is flour and heads to her station. Kelsey finds out that the white powder that she bought is actually cornstarch. She runs with it anyway since cornstarch makes a great crunchy coating. Graham says her dish really captured the challenge of being inspired by the market. 

The winner? Michelle’s creative cuttlefish dish! She’s pumped. “It feels amazing to hit the ground running,” she says. “I’m really proud of myself.”

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Elimination Challenge

Padma introduces one of the hottest chefs in Hong Kong, Jowett Yu of Ho Lee Fook, who will be the guest judge for the next challenge. The chefs will be catering a party for Chinese New Year at the opulent and very large MGM Macau. “Chinese New Year’s Eve is a big deal,” Jowett says.

Knowing the chefs will need help to execute a party for 200 people, Padma calls in former cheftestants Brian, Eddie, Justin, Brandon and David who are all holding trays with different ingredients. The trays carry some of the symbolic foods of a Chinese New Year’s dinner representing health, wealth, longevity, happiness and togetherness. The chefs must use all of the ingredients on the tray and no other chef can use those same ingredients. They’ll also have to use pork because it’s the Year of the Pig.

Michelle picks first and goes with longevity and David as her sous chef. Adrienne’s next and goes with health which means Brian is her sous chef. Sara picks happiness and Eddie, which is interesting because he looks happy for the first time ever. Kelsey goes with wealth and Brandon. Eric is left with togetherness and is reunited with Justin. The chefs brainstorm and descend onto the market for their ingredients before parting ways to cook together tomorrow.

That night the remaining cheftestants are treated to dinner at Five Foot Road, a Sichaun restaurant inside of the MGM hotel in Macau.

Here’s how things went the next day at the party:

Michelle Minori
Longevity (noodles, peaches, peanuts)
Dish: Pork lettuce wrap with cold noodle salad, peanuts two ways and pickled peach

Michelle smartly picks David as her sous chef because he’s Portuguese and Macau has strong Portuguese influences in its food. The judges seem to love her dish and give her good praise all around.

Kelsey Barnard Clark
Wealth (oranges, cashews, cabbage)
Dish: Mushroom broth with peas, greens, orange rinds, Portuguese sausage, cashews, cilantro leaves, and chives

Kelsey picks Brandon as her sous chef because of his knowledge of Asian flavors which will come in handy. She originally planned on making pork belly but changes her mind after finding out that Adrienne is using pork belly on her dish too. It’s a smart move. “You’ve done a good job blending your own background with these Portuguese flavors,” Padma says. Jowett says he loves the fresh vegetables because they give the dish a “healthy” component. 

Adrienne Wright
Health (broccoli, eggs, ginger)
Dish: Sticky fried rice cake, hoisin braised pork belly, roasted chili aioli

Adrienne is making a play on pork fried rice but using braised pork, aioli and charred broccoli as her components. Tom says he wishes the dish had a little more umami flavor and that the portion is really small. 

Eric Adjepong
Togetherness (water chestnuts, coconut, lychee)
Dish: Coconut curry, braised pork shoulder, and crispy pig’s ears with lychee glaze and Thai chili

Eric is pumped to be working with Justin because he’s his “best friend in this whole competition”. The dish looks great but Padma chides Eric for being “a bit timid with the chili”. Uh-oh. “This is the area of the world that can really handle chili so I’m surprised,” she says. 

Sara Bradley
Happiness (cauliflower, shrimp, walnuts)
Dish: Shrimp, cauliflower grits with poached walnuts, and pork shank

Sara is staying true to her southern roots and making shrimp and grits with cauliflower as the grits component. During the party, she plans on poaching the shrimp to order for 200 people which is an interesting choice because that’s a lot of shrimp and maintaining the temperature on the water might be hard. Graham notices the southern flavor profiles immediately. “It’s a really solid dish,” he says and Tom agrees. 

Judges' Table

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“All of you really picked up where you left off and the food was really clean and really delicious,” Tom says. Graham commends the chefs on weaving their own stories into the food of Macau. The top two chefs are Kelsey and Michelle! “This could have been a contemporary Chinese dish from a contemporary Chinese chef,” Tom says of Michelle’s noodle dish. “It looked very simple but each element had a lot of flavor,” Jowett says. Graham says Kelsey’s bean dish really spoke to the essence of the challenge: can you immerse yourself in a culture and incorporate their flavors into your own repertoire? “It was so satisfying and so soulful,” he adds. Jowett picks Kelsey as the winner and she gets choked up which is really sweet. “I definitely have a new confidence since coming to Macau,” she says.

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On the bottom are Adrienne, Sara, and Eric. Tom says he enjoyed Eric’s curry but there was a lot of sweetness in the dish. Padma says that the dish lacked “clarity” to which Eric disagrees. He says that being able to pick out each ingredient is not the point of a curry, the end result is supposed to be one collective flavor. “It’s not that I want to be able to pick out every ingredient, I want some complexity to that curry,” Padma says. Juwett thought Sara’s shrimp and grits were great but the sauce made from ham hocks was too powerful. “It ate salty,” Padma adds. Graham says Adrienne missed the “spirit of Chinese New Year” by serving one bite rice cakes. Adrienne disagrees and says that serving something with a different plating than what people expected was the intention. I’m really glad these chefs are standing up for their dishes but ultimately it’s up to the judges to decide who will go home.  

After a tough deliberation, the judges decide that Adrienne’s rice cake didn’t fit the challenge and she’s asked to pack her knives and go.

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“The dish just didn’t come together and we didn’t get a sense of generosity with your dish,” Tom says. And with that, Adrienne leaves the finals. Next week, the chefs take on durian-themed Quickfire and battle it out for their shot at one of the three spots in the finale.

Season 16 of 'Top Chef’ airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. The 90-minute finale airs March 14 at the special time of 9:30 p.m. Find additional interviews, chef bios, and more at BravoTV.com/TopChef.

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